5 March 2024



Last week marked another Olympic qualifier whilst this weekend we brace ourselves for more. Weeks are passing by rapidly and with that qualifying spots are settling in slowly but surely, not only for athletes but for referees too. This week’s Paris story unfolds the journey of Jhon RAMAEKERS (NED). So, who is the man behind the uniform?  

Before the suit, Jhon evidently practised judo in a judogi. His first meeting with Kano’s way was at a young age;  

As a 7-year-old boy my aunt took me to “the angry white pyjamas” where she was a green belt.  This one-hour visit was a life changer! One week later I returned to join the judo-classes myself.

Initally, Jhon took the route of competitive judo and at the time, he admits having had big dreams around it, especially with role models of his own such as double Olympic Champion, Willem Ruska alongside, back then, his local coaches, Nol Hofman and Thomas Korff. At the age of 19, Jhon suffered an injury during a junior competition which led him to take his referee licence and coaching course. His first live action as a refereeing was back in 1993 at a regional championships in Born. The changing of the uniform happened simultaneously, but the objective, naturally, remained the same. Jhon explains further…

When being injured as a competitor I started a trainer/coach-course and wanted to understand competition rules better, so I joined referee course as well. Never planned to be a referee but my injury kept me from competing myself. I was encouraged by fellow trainers and fellow competitors and my skills seemed to be suitable.…and very soon, I start to love refereeing.  

I live for judo. when I found out my career as an athlete was ending, my referee career developed quickly. In the Netherlands we had a long history in international refereeing with great role models whom challenged and supported me. Day by day I learned and tried to be better than the tournament before. The continental license was a ticket to a new era and the start of real close friendships at the European judo family. And again, I was encouraged to keep developing and felt that I could step up and go all the way. Going up the ranks confirmed this path. I am still honoured and happy for every event I can go and be invited.

Jhon passed his continental licence in Berlin October 2002 whilst he earned his international licence in Budapest February 2012. Dates and times, which he remembers like it was yesterday; 

During both, the continental and the international licence I was part of a team, starting friendships for life in a growing judo family. But never forget Budapest after passing the international exam, sitting in the hotel, and just smiling with Veli-Matti Karinkanta of Finland as we passed both exams together.

As a top-act referee, Jhon enjoys being able to be in close distance to all actions, to voice his view and to perform on a high level whilst keep learning and developing daily. Whilst he loves the atmosphere of Paris Grand Slam, his most memorable moment to date comes from south America; 

The most memorable contest was the mixed team final of the junior Olympics in Buenos Aires, where young athletes entered the venue in the morning as an independent individual yet they entered the tatami as a team, helping and encouraging each other.

Off the mat, Jhon is a dedicated manager at Radobank. © Jhon RAMAEKERS

Jhon’s IJF world tour debut was back in 2016 at the Ulaanbaatar Grand Prix which he recalls being a great experience. Now, enough of judo. Who is Jhon off the mat? 

I am a manager (private estate investments), at Rabobank, a cooperative bank in the Netherlands. Besides, I am passionate to pass on the 300-year-old tangible heritage in our village; every 7 years we are staging the play off Saint George and the Dragon.

I am also contributing to the local community by running a social company, operating various sport venues (including a Dojo) in our municipality. My hobby mainly involves scuba diving. 

Rerouting back on the mat, or rather nearby, as Jhon pre-competition routine involves being on time to prepare and test the radio. Once all checks are completed, he likes to ensure an elevated team spirit is present to deliver the best possible refereeing job, collectively. Nervousness is not his tag, rather positive tension. Overall, he believes it is key to stay calm and trust in his skills. Jhon’s first Olympic encounter was at the Tokyo 2020 summer games and whilst he valued his accomplishment, he looks forward to Paris. 

Being in Tokyo, where the Dutch Anton Geesink took a historical first ever win meant a lot to me! …. but normally fans and family complete the atmosphere and experience. So hopefully we can look forward to a packed Paris during these Olympic an Paralympic games….and we know the Paris spectators ….it can be electrifying.

Now, referees have one of two Paris events to aim and whilst the top 14 heading to the Olympics, the next 12 on the list will be in action at the Paralympics. Jhon has experience at both fields at an international level. What are the similarities / differences from a refereeing point of view? 

A referee is on the tatami ‘to guide’ and watch over the safety at the right moment. In regular judo we do this, in para judo we do this as well, so far, no difference. A referee in para judo gives a little extra help to (re)start the contest and is a beacon for the athletes. All athletes have their own background, struggles and stories, the para athlete had overcome a lot to reach the same starting point. I am really happy with the development of para judo, less procedures, more respect, more judo. From refereeing perspective, it is the difference in moving on the tatami, in para judo you must stay more in the centre…and closer to the athletes to guard their safety. The emotions after a win or a defeat, you can feel how much they gave and all obstacles they overcame to realise their dreams, it is universal and intense. So, let’s focus on the similarities, these are by far more.

For the foreseeable future, Jhon wishes to continue contributing to the judo family and refereeing, sharing experiences, knowledge, whilst also coaching referees. Finally, Jhon shares the parties who had the biggest influence of his career;

 I had great mentors and examples in refereeing in the Netherlands and all over Europe, but in the end my family who joined the rhythm of judo and managed everything when we are travelling… this is key! 

Thank you Jhon!


Country, HometownThe Netherlands, Beesel
RankingEJU:   7    IJF/Olympic ranking: 12
Favourite techniqueTe-Guruma and love Ne-Waza
Study / Qualifications BSc. (Nyenrode business University)
Profession Manager private investment banking at Rabobank, a Dutch cooperative Bank
Biggest lesson learned so farNever stop asking questions…and stay calm
MottoPerspective is everything, so deal with it or change.
DishBBQ: lobster or bavette chimichurri
BeveragesWine with friends (Italian Primitivo or Tempranillo Spain)
Animal Humpback and Thresher Shark
SongNovember Rain: Guns ‘n Roses
BookI am a Judo book collector, Mifune’s Canon of judo is a precious one. I like thrillers like Davinci Code by Dan Browns or Simple Genius by David Baldacci
MovieJames Bond movies and Star Wars Chronicles 
Day of the week …a day off!  
Trait  Persevere
Top 5 bucket list Run the Paris Marathon 
See the Northern light
Scuba diving humpbacks and Whaleshark at Socorro Islands
Drive the Mille Miglia historical rally

Author: Szandra Szogedi